Objective: Digital ulcers (DUs) are a major cause of disease-related morbidity and are a difficult-to-treat vascular complication of systemic sclerosis (SSc). Demonstrating treatment efficacy has traditionally focused on clinician assessment of DUs alone. No existing patient-reported outcome (PRO) instrument captures the multifaceted impact of SSc-DU. We report the findings of a multicenter qualitative research study exploring the patient experience of SSc-DU. Methods: Patient focus groups were conducted across 3 scleroderma units, following a topic guide devised by SSc patients, experts, and experienced qualitative researchers. A purposive sampling framework ensured that the experiences of a diverse group of patients were captured. Focus groups were audio recorded, and information was transcribed, anonymized, and analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. We continued focus groups until thematic saturation was achieved. Results: Twenty-nine SSc patients with a history of DU disease participated in 4 focus groups across the UK (Bath, Manchester, and London). Five major interrelated themes (and subthemes) were identified that encompass the patient experience of SSc-DU: disabling pain and hypersensitivity; deep and broad-ranging emotional impact; impairment of physical and social activity; factors aggravating occurrence, duration, and impact; and mitigating, managing, and adapting. Conclusion: The patient experience of SSc-DU is multifaceted and comprises a complex interplay of experiences associated with significant pain and morbidity. Patient experiences of SSc-DU are not captured using existing SSc-DU outcomes. Our findings will inform the development of a novel PRO instrument to assess the severity and impact of SSc-DU for use in future SSc-DU clinical trials.
ASJC Scopus subject areas